What does it mean to be a true artist? As many amazing musicians as I have seen pass through KCRW, I’ve only seen a few true artists. And Patti Smith is one of them.
Obviously, she is a legend. But seeing her live – especially in a room of less than 200 people – you remember why. Not only why she is so deserving of such praise, but also the reasons why she continues to be impactful in her work. It’s because she puts every molecule of her being into her performances – every word, every note, every movement is deliberate and precise, even when she is howling.
All night at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio I alternated between having chills, being on the verge of tears and feeling so full of inspiration that I wanted to run out into the street rallying the troops.
She’s always been as well known for her activism as her music and there were a few themes throughout the night in both her songs and her commentary. The importance of protecting the environment, voting and supporting our youth were among them.
She started the show with three songs from her new album “Banga” – the excellent “April Fool”, “Fuji-San”, which was inspired by the earthquake in Japan, and “Maria”, written in honor of her friend, actress Maria Schneider. Patti says it’s the most emotional song on the album and the most nostalgic. It captures the moment when she was touring behind “Horses”, and everything was just taking off, like “god his can opener and opened up our little word.”
As she describes it in the song, they were raw and excitable.
And the beautiful thing about Patti Smith is you don’t feel any less excitement seeing her today.
She closed the show with a selection of songs that reminded us why she’s been given the title the “godmother of punk”. Her 1976 classic “Pissing in a River” got the crowd all worked up (watching her stalking the front of the stage singing the line “everything I’ve done I’ve done for you. Oh I give my life for you” was an unforgettable moment) and, on the title track to “Banga”, she got everyone to bark like dogs (seriously).
After a rousing speech about the importance of voting and “using your voice”, she sang “People Have the Power”, fists in the air. And that is the Patti Smith that continues to inspire us to this day.
The audience was clearly honored to have witnessed such a small show (she plays the Wiltern this Friday!) and it brought out some notable fans, including Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Ellen Page, Tim Robbins, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, artist Alexandra Grant, and model Erin Wasson.
KCRW DJ Anne Litt hosted a mid-set interview that will air as part of the session on Morning Becomes Eclectic on November 14. (Anne also talked to sister station WNYC recently about why Patti would be her pick for Commander in Chief.)
Patti Smith Live on KCRW – Set List
Beneath the Southern Cross
Pissing in a River
People Have the Power